Phillips Exeter Academy review by Dartmouth College student. The bell in the Academy tower may be ringing, signaling the end of class, but no one leaves their seats. All too often I found the discussions around the Harkness Table to be so engaging that I couldn't quite leave- you just have to get that last point in, reach that deepest metaphor. This is Exeter at its finest. The education at Exeter is innovative and top-notch. Classes revolve around The Harkness Table, an oval table that seats eleven students and creates a discussion based style of teaching. There are no mindless lectures at Exeter, every class (including math and sciences) is taught using this interactive method and that means every class involves and feeds off of the students at the table. The students do the teaching and the teacher simply steers the discussion to make sure all the necessary material is covered. The work at Exeter is intense but manageable. Students at Exeter study hard, but at the same time teachers are always understanding and helpful. Teachers are more than happy to welcome students into their home to help with a paper and it isn't surprising to have teachers invite the entire class over for a home cooked meal at the end of the term. I still facebook message my Russian teacher and I'm going down to visit her and the campus in the winter... Papers and writing assignments are favored over standard fact memorizing tests, and there is a deep focus on developing writing skills and styles in classes ranging from Quantum Mechanics to U.S. History. I was more of a humanities person, so I can't speak to the upper level math classes, but I lived next door to the third best mathematician under the age of 18 in the US (I believe number one was in a girl's dorm about two hundred feet away) and he seemed to be very impressed with the Math Program at Exeter. Thanks to Exeter's notoriety, the speakers that it pulls in are unparalleled for a high school. The year before I arrived they had the democratic primaries in the assembly hall and all of the presidential candidates were walking around campus. Personally, I'm an avid environmentalist, so the school set me up to have lunch with a former US Senator who came and spoke and I found out he's Al Gore's right hand man on issues of climate change. A few months later I was reading about him in Newsweek. The teachers are amazing, the education is unrivaled (but the Harkness system is often reproduced), and I could never thank the school enough.
I can not even begin to tell you how much I miss my friends, my dorm, and the entire campus at Exeter. It's true you sacrifice some personal freedoms going to boarding school (don't be stupid with drugs and alcohol on campus) but at the same time it's like college a few years early. Dances are common, the school often brings comedians and bands to perform (Dispatchs lead singer and his band, State Radio, came my first year). The food is so much better than anything I've seen at another boarding school or college campus and I miss the organic spinach at the salad bar (not to mention all-you-can-eat frozen yogurt). The environment is completely safe and students often leave the backpacks in halls and on chairs for hours at a time without anything happening. Dorms are amazing and you'll remember the late nights you have with your dormmates forever. Some people don't like the fact that you have to wear a tie to class, but honestly it grows on you (not to mention teaches you a lot about style). I started off as a rebellious little hippy and by the end have, admittedly, seen my wardrobe go from punk to prep. In all sincerity, I still call up my friends and reminisce so fondly about Exeter. It was one of the most important and life-changing decisions I made in my life, and my family, my friends, and I have noticed the greatest of changes because of it. I'm more confident, smarter, more passionate, and most of all, I really think I know who I am thanks to my three years at Exeter.
This is by far the aspect I admire Exeter for most. Exeter gave me a $10,000 grant to switch all the diesel tractors and vans on campus to run on biodiesel and the administration was great in helping me. After getting into my dream school early decision, I essentially had free reign to do whatever I wanted. A group of environmental activists got together and decided to do something big. What we ended up with was a one of the first Carbon Neutrality Proposals ever written for a high school. We met with each dorm individually to explain the nature of our work and took their signatures of support (which ended up totally around 90% as I recall). Later we met with the trustees of the Academy and made a presentation of our work. The trustees have taken it to heart and already started to change the way they run the school in terms of environmentalism. Part of my work with this project was the writing of a revolving green loan fund, and to do that I met regularly with the school's CFO, a fountain of wisdom who helped me along the way. What I'm trying to say is this school will let you take an interest, develop it into a passion, and run as far as you'd like with it. They'll help you with anything you need (keep in mind the school has over a billion dollar endowment, so any worthy project you can name will be funded) and let you do some really amazing work. It's also a great place for finding interests. I hadn't really done any acting until I got to Exeter, and then I tried out for a play on a whim and ended up loving it! Through Exeter I was able to pursue these interests in acting as well as pole vaulting, political debate, running a small business (PEAL magazine), and environmental action. Honestly, you can do anything at Exeter. If you want to play an instrument, like the bagpipes for instance, they will find you a bagpipe instructor and bring them to campus for you. Students tend to be very involved and informed, so the entire campus is just blooming with activity.